[OPINION] ABS-CBN: Lessons learned and unlearned

Vergel O. Santos

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[OPINION] ABS-CBN: Lessons learned and unlearned
'There is definitely no way that what [Marcos], as judge, jury, and executioner, did to them can be justified, but oligarch may not be an altogether inapt description: Powerbroker, kingmaker, the Lopezes undeniably were.'

The tragedy that has befallen ABS-CBN – arbitrarily denied the renewal of its broadcast franchise in a crackdown that is far from done or justified – takes me back through history I myself lived, and observed from various points that all in all make for a vantage position – from the personal to the professional and through the shades between them. It’s a history that nags at me now, insinuating itself, intimating that without it I could not hope to be any help in making things better understood.

I published some of it unoccasioned, mostly in the narrow and personal form of plain reminiscence; if I repeat it here I do so in the hope of shining some light on the issue.

The issue turns on the inescapable identification of ABS-CBN and the Lopez family with each other. Having worked for the family’s newspaper, The Manila Chronicle, I myself bore the Lopez mark, which as minor as it was in my case still proved no minor liability during martial law – I was denied permission to make a living by the only work I knew to do.   

I worked at the Chronicle, first as a copyeditor and later as assistant editorial page editor in the 6 years preceding Ferdinand Marcos’s declaration of martial law, then returned as managing editor, later becoming executive editor when the paper revived, once Marcos was ousted by a nonviolent popular rising in 1986. As I have written,

Though technically superior, the Chronicle was very far from the ideal newspaper for the basic anomaly that its owners showed not the slightest hesitation in using it to protect or further their political and business interests. Their kingmaking powers were applied through their paper most blatantly to unseat Diosdado Macapagal and in his place install Marcos in the presidential election of 1965 and sustain him in power, and, when they began to fall out with Marcos…to try to do to him what they had done to Macapagal: Marcos killed the Chronicle, put Eugenio [Lopez] Jr. in prison and impoverished the family [by seizing its assets].

“Oligarch” was the word Marcos bruited about to describe them. There is definitely no way that what he, as judge, jury, and executioner, did to them can be justified, but oligarch may not be an altogether inapt description: Powerbroker, kingmaker, the Lopezes undeniably were. (READ: Bong Go: It’s those anti-Duterte ads on ABS-CBN that got the boss’ goat)

Duterte repeats Marcos today. But then was then and now is now. I’ve heard it said that Eugenio Jr. was a different man in his time from his father, chastened as he was by prison, exile, impoverishment, and the death of his father the “oligarch” by a cancer aggravated by heartbreak while he was in prison, where he might have languished longer than 5 years if he hadn’t risked escape.  

In our own varied dealings, I saw in him a genuine sense of public service. Indeed, I thought its motto rang truest when he was the publisher of the revived Chronicle: “The noblest motive is the public good.” As, again, I have written,

I have run or been involved in the running of [not a few] publications, but I have not been given as much independence as an editor as in the revived Chronicle. In fact, I could not have asked for more.

[T]he deal I got from him was as plain as it was ideal. “Run the paper as you like. I will not get in the way,” he told me. “All I ask is that if you have bad news about me or my family or our businesses, print our side in it.” In other words, he asked for no more than any other news subject deserves, and each time his word was tested it proved good.

After the Chonicle, he engaged me for a sort of ethical and professional audit of the news and public affairs department of ABS-CBN, giving me full access to its secrets and assuring me he did not care what I found. I cannot say that it was my inquiry that led to the adoption of a policy prohibiting the network’s news people appearing in commercials, but Eugenio Jr. did agree with me that no news network could make a valid claim to ethical ascendancy or credibility for that matter without such a policy to start with.

As a media columnist, I did not spare ABS-CBN – it’s simply too big and too imperfect to be left alone – and he granted me my place, even occasionally gave gracious comment.

Eugenio Lopez Jr. (1928-1999) may seem the obvious measure, but it is doubtful his memory mattered at all to his successors at the very moment of truth, when they came under savage attack from a regime that had left no doubt from the very beginning as to its vicious and vengeful intent – to take away, without the slightest regard for due process, not only their franchise but everything else they possessed. (READ: House probes loom over ABS-CBN QC property, P1.6-B condoned Lopez loans)

They took all that bullying and battering from the regime’s congressional inquisitors with a mistaken notion of meekness as a saintly virtue. And, irony of ironies, the supreme mockery was shown live on their own network uncommentated on. And, emerging with not only both Christian cheeks but all body and soul sore, they asked for more; in a further false sense of virtuousness, they agreed to let the Duterte regime, saving it the trouble of sequestration, use their facilities for the distance education it promotes in the time of coronavirus. (READ: With no franchise, ABS-CBN cuts jobs)

If they were aspiring to sainthood they picked the wrong faith: they just signed up for complicity in the prospective indoctrination of the succeeding generations into the equivalent of Hitler’s Brown Shirts or Mao’s Red Guards. – Rappler.com

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